S2A3 Biographical Database of Southern African Science

Watson, Mr Hugh (malacology)

Born: 1 June 1885, Newcastle-on-Tyne, United Kingdom.
Died: 21 January 1959, Cherry Hinton, near Cambridge, United Kingdom.

Hugh Watson, British malacologist, was the son of John Watson and his wife Laura Elizabeth Burnup, and a nephew of Henry C. Burnup*. After a private education he entered Trinity College, University of Cambridge, where he studied in the natural sciences and was awarded the degree Master of Arts (MA) in 1914. As a man of independent means he devoted his life to the study of molluscs. He became a member of the (British) Conchological Society in 1900, was its president for 1926/7, and was elected an honorary member in 1955. In 1905 he became a member of the Malacological Society of London. He corresponded with many British and foreign malacologists, but appears to have been a lonely person with no near relatives who suffered from poor health and frequent attacks of severe migraine. A meticulous worker and skilled draughtsman, his papers are a model of style and lucidity. He had an immense knowledge of the literature and taxonomy of the Gastropoda and was always willing to help others who consulted him. In his younger days he travelled and collected on the European continent, but later he received his material from Europe and South Africa.

Watson published some important research papers on the anatomy and taxonomy of South African molluscs. His very first scientific contribution was a monograph entitled 'Studies on the carnivorous slugs of South Africa' (Annals of the Natal Museum, 1915, Vol. 3(2), pp. 107-268). At this time he based his explanation of the distribution of some carnivorous snails in the southern continents on the then very new and controversial theory of continental drift. Other papers by him included 'Natalina and other South African snails' (Proceedings of the Malacological Society of London, 1934).

The non-marine mollusc Trachycystis watsoni (Watson's pinwheel), was named after him by M.W.K. Connolly* in 1939, after Watson had described its anatomy a few years earlier on the basis of specimens sent to him by his uncle, H.C. Burnup.

List of sources:

Annals of the Natal Museum, 1915, Vol. 3(2), monograph by H. Watson.

Barnard, K.H. Personal names in South African conchology. Cape Town: Conchological Society of Southern Africa, 1965.

Biography of H. Watson. Conchology Inc. http://www.conchology.be/?t=9001&id=31422 as on 4 July 2015.

Google Scholar. http://scholar.google.co.za

Herbert, D. and Kilburn, D. Field guide to the land snails and slugs of eastern South Africa. Pietermaritzburg: Natal Museum, 2004.

Compiled by: C. Plug